Leon Russell, prolific songwriter and showman, has died

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One of the premiere showmen of the 1970s, Leon Russell has passed away. He was 74 years old.

Russell was a highly sought after session musician before hitting on on his own. As a studio ace Leon Russell played with many musicians and bands already at the top of the chart. He gained a wide audience after putting together a road band for Joe Cocker called the Mad Dogs and Englishmen. The tour produced a live album and movie that made both Russell and Cocker household names.

Russell played on albums by Frank Sinatra and all of the Beach Boys early albums, including Pet Sounds. He can be heard on albums by Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Sam Cooke, The Ventures, Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones, among others. He was a member of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” and the famed “Wrecking Crew” an informal group of Los Angeles studio musicians.

In 1970 Russell released his first album and in 1971 he appeared at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. He played with many A-list bands and singers like Eric Clapton and George Harrison, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, and Willie Nelson, playing at Nelson’s famous 4th of July party several times. But as his fame grew Russell stepped back from the personal spotlight.

Russell’s music was very eclectic, but always uniquely American.

In 2010 Russell made a comeback, recording an album with Elton John titled The Union. In that year Russell had a health scare when doctors found fluid leaking in his brain. He continued to tour and create music, planning to tour into 2017.
In 2011 when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Elton John said Leon Russell was the Master of Space and Time.

Earlier this year, in July, Russell had heart problems and received open heart surgery. he postponed his tour dates while recovering from the surgery.

Leon Russell was born Claude Russell Bridges in Lawton, OK, April 2, 1942. He died in his sleep at his Nashville, TN home, Sunday morning, November 13, 2016.

His most famous song — and most played by other musicians — is “A Song For You.”